Addressing the Influencer Pay Gap: What Brands Need to Know
As Influencer Marketing has grown to claim up to 20 percent of advertisers’ budgets, so has communication among influencers about their pay. The result? An awareness that not all brand partners get paid the same, even if they’re doing the same kind and amount of work. However, along with the influencer pay gap came organizations and groups intending to close it.
As a brand, you might worry that these unions exist to force you to increase your marketing budget or file lawsuits against you on behalf of influencers. Rest assured that if you educate yourself about the issue, become a part of the dialogue, and make fair pay for influencers part of your mantra, you’ll be a vital part of the solution.
What is the Influencer Pay Gap?
Simply put, the influencer pay gap is a disparity between what some influencers get paid vs. other influencers, even when they do the same kind and amount of work. It can exist between influencers of different races. For example, Stephanie Yeboah, a Black blogger from the U.K., experienced that pay gap herself when she was accidentally CCed on an email sent from a brand she was working with on a campaign to a white influencer participating on the same campaign. The email contained the white blogger’s pay rates, which Yeboah realized were significantly higher than hers, even though she and the other influencer were doing the same work and she had more followers and higher engagement.
But, it can also happen for other reasons. First and foremost, pay gaps exist because there are no set standards and no rates that everyone’s agreed is fair market value. They also exist because well-meaning agencies and brands try to make their Influencer Marketing dollars stretch as far as possible and include as many social media mavens as possible, depending on their influence, resulting in lower pay for some. Some influencers negotiate for and accept rates below fair market, maybe unaware of what similar influencers make for similar campaigns.
The bottom line? Pay gaps exist mostly because we’re still in the Wild, Wild West of social media. That is why creator unions are forming: to “tame” the frontier.
How Are Creator Unions Leading the Pack in Establishing Fair Pay?
In June of 2020, London-based talent agent Adesuwa Ajayi started an Instagram account entitled @InfluencerPayGap. Influencers from around the world anonymously disclosed their rates and campaign parameters. In only a short time, a pay gap between influencers of different races became apparent.
Nicole Ocran, a non-white influencer who experienced pay discrimination, co-founded The Creators Union with influencer expert Kat Molesworth. Ocran said, in an interview with UK’s The Guardian, “LGBTQ+ creators, disabled creators, plus-size creators and Black and brown influencers are being asked to work for free,” particularly during the pandemic.
So far, in addition to The Creators Union, these influencer groups have formed and these changes have been made to existing unions to prevent such pay disparities:
- American Influencer Council: Formed in 2020, this is a not-for-profit membership trade association uniting U.S.-based social media influencers.
- Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA): In 2021, the guild expanded membership to influencers creating content on social media.
- Freelance Solidarity Project, a division of the National Writers Union: This “open-shop union” supports anyone who pays their dues and produces content, including media freelancers, unpublished writers, editors, illustrators, photographers, videographers, and social media producers.
- Freelancers Union: To the extent that influencers aren’t beholden to any one company, they can be considered freelancers and claim membership in any one of these organizations, including the Freelancers Union, which provides “independent workers with education, resources, community, benefits, and a political voice.”
Fixing the pay gap is just one of several reasons these unions exist. Some of them provide insurance and retirement benefits. They also help influencers network with each other and educate influencers on the ins and outs of good contracts. Also, they influence legislation like New York’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act.
None of these unions’ mission statements say “go after brands who aren’t paying fairly or who don’t yet understand what ‘fair pay’ means for influencers.” While some of them are working to define what fair rates are, and increase awareness of disparities, no standards exist yet.
This gives you a chance to be proactive in helping to define those stands. Some brands and agencies do surveys of influencers to get rates. SocialBlueBook.com offers influencers an algorithm that helps them determine their value, since the solution lies with both brands and influencers.
How Can My Brand Become Part of the Solution?
While fair pay standardization is getting off the ground, brands have a great opportunity to weigh in on the issue. Why would they want to join the movement? Discussion among influencers about pay is only half the picture; the other half is what brands can pay based on “fair market value.”
How would you go about doing that? Consider these options (in no particular order):
- Join a Facebook or LinkedIn group connecting brands directly with influencers. On Facebook, these groups exist primarily for brands to put out parameters for campaigns on any platform, and see which influencers “bite.” On LinkedIn, however, groups such as Influencer & Social Media Marketing encourage discussion among marketers about issues such as regulations and crisis control.
- Attend a conference. The next Influencer Marketing World conference, in June of 2022, will have a session on diversity and inclusion. Attending such break outs is a great way to gain awareness and to network with like minded professionals.
- Join or form a brand coalition. For example, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition brings together brands in the fashion industry who are looking to improve the sustainability of their practices and get data on everything from value chain sustainability. They host discussions on transparency, among other things. Be like the influencers and talk amongst yourselves!
- Make fair pay your mantra. If you’ve already been striving to ensure your influencer partners are paid fairly no matter their gender, race, or other distinguishing physical characteristic, then great! If you’re operating on a general assumption that everyone on your team will be honest when negotiating contracts and making payments, put that assumption down on paper or in an email. Make it official. That way, going forward, there will be no question regarding your team’s priorities.
Wrapping It Up
Being a leader in any company or organization means stepping forward where others would slink back or pretend to care. Take a stand on the issue of fair pay by learning about it and the unions formed to address it, joining or creating dialogue around it, and making it an official part of your Influencer Marketing team’s mantra. Do this not only so that influencers are paid fairly, but so that your brand can truly become a leader in your industry.